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All heritage sites are sites of interpretation. Traditionally, interpretation has been based around the format of key message/theme/story. This approach has assumed an essentialist perspective – that there are ‘facts’ to be communicated – and often reflects the views of the dominant agent on the site.
Cultural heritage sites, however, have a much deeper theoretical base. Over the last 30 years, the importance of acknowledging heritage sites’ multiple meanings, including, in many cases, dissonant and conflicting histories, has become more clear in the cultural heritage sector. At the same time, the role of memory and the contribution of associated communities are increasingly factored into interpretative plans. Significant work on Sites of Memory and Sites of Conscience has taken place over the last 20 years, not only for World Heritage sites but also for heritage in general. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience works with heritage sites and museums in over 65 countries to harness public memory to foster new understandings of the past, build social cohesion and promote cultures of human rights. Their programs support the development of inclusive, community-centered interpretations, prioritizing multiple perspectives and traditionally marginalized voices as a catalyst for bridging difference and enhancing local engagement in the preservation and maintenance of heritage sites.
This theme will look at best practice in the areas of interpretation of heritage sites. The following topics will be explored:
• What ‘history’ is being presented? Who controls interpretation?
• Whose narrative and perspective is included? Who is excluded? Why?
• What is the role of the professional in interpretation? What is the role of the community?
• What models can we use to share dissonant and contested histories?
• How is evidence used in interpretation? What is the role of archival evidence as a complement to oral history, memory and community stories?
• How can we support communities to explore and share a site’s divisive and/or multiple histories?
• How can we promote intergenerational dialogue?
What is the role of ‘#Our World Heritage’ in these discussions?
• What does effective inclusive, community-centered interpretation look like in practice? What are the possible site outcomes?
We will collate ‘best practice’ case studies and examine models for interpretation that involves communities and groups who might hold different ‘truths’ about a heritage site.
Elizabeth Silkes, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
Sue Hodges, Sue Hodges Productions (SHP) and the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on the Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites (ICIP).